The Bible's Answer to Suffering
For those who believe in an all-powerful God who is also a God of love and mercy, the problem of suffering is a big one. Some would say that a God who would allow suffering is either unable to do something about it, and therefore not all-powerful, or He is not very loving, because He allows His creatures to go through all sorts of pain. And let's face it, when we hear that a child has cancer or some other unspeakable disease, or we hear of children starving to death in other parts of the world, we wonder why?
This subject is too vast and too important to do in one article, so I've decided to break it into two. First, this article will deal with the biblical answer to what has caused suffering in this world. The next article will be entitled "God and Suffering." That will deal more with why the righteous and the innocent suffer, and why God created a universe with the possibility of suffering in the first place.
I. Suffering Was Not Part of the Original Creation
The Bible tells us that the world was created by God, and it was perfect. Here is God's assessment of creation in the book of Genesis:
"God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
The world, as the Lord made it, was without the spot of death and disease. He made a paradise for His creatures to dwell in that was untainted by the curse of sin. Suffering, disease, and death were not part of the world fresh from the hand of God.
II. Adam's Sin Caused Suffering and Death
The original creation became marred the minute that the first man, Adam, chose to rebel against God. Eve rebelled as well, but Scripture indicates that she was deceived. Adam, with full knowlege of what he was doing, disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. The book of Romans tells us that, as a consequence of this, sin and death entered the world. Romans 5:12 tells us:
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned."
We may never know, this side of glory, how profoundly the whole world was marred by sin, but we get some idea of it in Romans 8. Paul says:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly as sons, the redemption of our body" (8:19-23).
The formerly pristine creation, tainted by the effects of sin, is said to wait expectantly for its deliverance from the curse of sin. And that will only happen when Jesus Christ returns.
II. Suffering and Death Will Die
Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the curse of sin. He took the sins of the world upon Himself and took upon Himself the penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus made it possible to one day eradicate the effects of sin from this universe forever, including suffering and pain. I love what I Corinthian 15:21,22 says to us:
"For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive."
As Paul said, those who know Jesus Christ are groaning, awaiting the day when Christ will come back and eradicate the evil and sin from this earth and give us new, perfected bodies, free from the results of sin.
I love Revelation 21, which speaks of that day:
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying: "Behold the tabernacle of God is among men., and he will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
When all of this takes place, man will once again be back in the paradise that he lost centuries earlier in Eden. And the pain, suffering and death, which is so much a part of all our lives today, will be no more.
To sum it all up, when we ask the question: "Why is there suffering in the world?" It is caused, not by God, but by man's sin which has cursed this universe. And if you ask: "Why doesn't He do something about it?", the answer is that He has already done it, when He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. And He will complete the process when Christ returns again. These are the foundational truths of the Bible that we will use to expand upon this theme of suffering in the next article. But for now, I'd like to leave you with the words of the poet, John Donne, who beautifully puts suffering and death into perspective:
"Death be not proud, for many have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou thinkest thou dost overthrow, die not poor death,nor yet canst thou kill me....One short sleep past, we wake eternally. And death shall be no more; death thou shalt die!"
And with the end of death comes the death of suffering as well. Those are two deaths that no one will mourn.